Maria Echaveste, 60, is bound to make history by becoming not only the first woman ever to serve as U.S. ambassador to Mexico — she will be one of the very few Mexican-Americans to do so.
She was nominated by president Obama last week and her confirmation now awaits Senate confirmation.
The Texas-born corporate lawyer, a graduate of UC Berkeley and Stanford University and former White House staffer, has worn many hats in her long and exceptional career. Next up is putting her diplomacy skills to the test in one of the largest U.S. consular operations in the world.
“She embodies diversity of influence, knowledge and I think that´s very special,” said David Ayón, an expert with the Wilson Center, U.S. Director of the binational Focus Mexico/Enfoque México project and former coworker and friend.
Echaveste’s pick comes weeks before the midterm election, at a time of mixed political sentiments over immigration, as criticism from Latino and immigration groups keeps mounting due to the government and Congress’ inaction in introducing a policy reform.
As was the case of other Mexican American ambassadors, such as Julián Nava, some say Echevaste’s appointment points toward electoral expediency; others believe she represents the right dose of bicultural mix to reach for diplomatic solutions in bilateral relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
“I think it is a great advantage that she's a Mexican American, and she's going to be the right ambassador, just right for the times that we´re living,” he told Fox News Latino.
Her colleagues describe her as a fluent Spanish speaker with a clear Mexican accent, who thinks of herself as a nerd, enjoys language and has a wide range of interests.
A White House official during the Clinton administration, where she served as Deputy Chief of Staff from 1998 to 2001, Echaveste comes to the post compensating her lack of diplomatic experience with her great influence in Washington, where she is well known as an authority on immigration and public policy issues.
Her husband, Christopher Edley, Jr., a former dean of the University of California, in Berkeley Law School and a Harvard Law professor, has also moved between academia and public service, focusing on civil rights and holding close ties to Hillary Clinton.
From 2009 to 2010, Mrs. Echaveste served as a U.S. special representative to Bolivia, and before that as an advisor to the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, as a member of the Board of Directors of CARE, a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, and also participated with the Alliance for Excellent Education, organization which advocates for reforms on education.
In 2010 she joined the board of the recently formed U.S./ Mexico Foundation (USMF), organization that claims to be the only national 501(c)(3) in the United States dedicated to carrying out philanthropic efforts in the U.S. exclusively for Mexico.
“Maria Echaveste is among the best and brightest that our community has to offer. Her roots are in Texas and California, two states who understand well the importance of the U.S. –Mexico relationship. She´´ll be an excellent ambassador,” said Texas Congressman Pete Gallego.
If confirmed, Echaveste will be replacing Ambassador Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat who served in Mexico since 2011.
Mexico is the U.S. second largest export market, and its third largest trading partner and energy supplier. According to figures by the State Department, the U.S. buys over 75 percent of Mexico’s exports – in 2013 bilateral trade in goods and services was over $500 billion, having grown in each of the last three years.
“I think her appointment is stellar … She has a really distinguished career, and a real desire to improve bilateral relations between the United States and Mexico. I think it is a very positive choice and I think it will be well received among many in the United States and Mexico,” said Professor Harley Shaiken, Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley.
Ninoska Marcano is a freelance reporter living in Washington D.C.